“You couldn’t possibly understand my motives,” he said with a sardonic smile. “You who spent a whole lifetime dismantling everything that makes our civilization shine.”

“But I do understand,” I insisted. “I’ve seen The Obser-vatory, and I know its power. You’d use that device to spy. You Templars would use that device to spy and blackmail and sabotage.”

He nodded, but the movement pained him; blood soaked his shirt and jacket. “Yes, and yet all for a greater purpose. To ensure justice. To snuff out the lies and to seek truth.”

“There’s no man on Earth who needs that power.”

“Yet you suffer the outlaw Roberts to use it . . .”

I shook my head to put him right about that. “No. I’m taking it back, and if you tell me where he is, I’ll stop Roberts.”

“Africa,” he said. And I pulled my blades free.

Blood flowed heavily from his neck and his body sagged against the balustrade, undignified in the throes of death. What a difference from the man I’d first met all those years ago at Torres’s mansion: an ambitious man with a handshake as firm as his resolve, and now his life ended not just on my blade but in a drunken fugue, a morass of bitterness and broken dreams. Though he’d ousted the pirates from Nassau, he hadn’t been given the support he needed to finish the job. The British had turned their backs on him. His hopes of rebuilding Nassau were shattered.

Blood puddled on the stone around me and I moved my feet to avoid it. His chest rose and fell slowly. His eyes were half-closed and his breathing became irregular as life slipped away.

Then from behind came a scream and, startled, I turned to see a woman, the finery of her clothes in stark contrast to her demeanour, a hand over her mouth and wide, terrified eyes. There was the rumble of running feet, more figures appearing on the balcony. Nobody daring to tackle me but not withdrawing either. Just watching.

I cursed, stood and vaulted to the balustrade. To my left the balcony filled with guests.

“Grazie,” I told them, then spread my arms and jumped.

SIXTY-THREE

FEBRUARY 1722

And so to Africa, where Black Bart—now the most feared and infamous pirate in the Caribbean—continued to evade the British. I knew how he did it, of course, because in his possession was The Observatory Skull, and he was using it—using it to anticipate every move against him.

As I set the Jackdaw in pursuit of him, Roberts was stealing French ships and sailing them down the coast to Sierra Leone. His Royal Fortune remained at the head of his fleet and he continued sailing south-east along the African coast: raiding, pillaging, plundering as he went, constantly making improvements to his vessels and becoming better armed, more powerful and even more fearsome than he already was.

We had already come across the sickening evidence of his campaign of terror in January, when we sailed into the aftermath of not a battle, but a massacre: Roberts in The Royal Fortune had attacked twelve ships at anchor in Whydah. All had surrendered apart from an English slave ship, the Porcupine, and their refusal to lay down arms had made Roberts so furious that he had ordered the ship boarded, then set alight.

His men flooded the decks with tar and set flame to the Porcupine with the slaves still on board, chained in pairs below decks. Those who jumped overboard to escape the blaze were torn limb from limb by sharks, the rest burned alive or drowned. Horrible, horrible death.

By the time we arrived the sea was awash with debris. Vile black smoke shrouded the entire neighbourhood, and smouldering in the ocean, almost up to the water-line, was the burnt-out hull of the Porcupine.

Disgusted by what we’d seen, we followed Roberts’s trail south, then to Principé, where he’d anchored his ship in the bay and taken a party of men ashore to make camp and gather supplies.

We waited. Then, as night fell, I gave the Jackdaw orders to wait an hour before attacking The Royal Fortune. Next I took a row-boat to shore, pulled up the cowl of my robes and followed a path inland, led by the shouts and singing I could hear in the distance. As I grew closer, I smelled the tang of the campfire and then, as I crouched nearby, I could see its soft glow divided by the undergrowth.

I was in no mood to take prisoners, so I used grenadoes. Just as their captain was famous for saying he gave no quarter, neither did I, and as the camp erupted into explosions and screams and a choking cloud of thick black smoke, I strode to its centre with my blade and a pistol at the ready.

The battle was short because I was ruthless. It didn’t matter that some were asleep, some naked and most of them unarmed. Perhaps the men who poured tar on the decks of the Porcupine were among those who died at the point of my blade. I hoped so.

Roberts did not stand and fight. He grabbed a torch and ran. Behind us were the screams of my massacre at camp, but I left his crew to their dying as I gave chase, following him up—up a pathway to a guard tower on a promontory.

“Why, who chases me now?” he called. “Is it a spectre come to spook me? Or the gaunt remains of a man I sent to hell, now crawling back to pester me?”

“No, Black Bart Roberts,” I shouted back. “It’s I, Edward Kenway, come to call a halt to your reign of terror!”

He raced into the guard tower and climbed. I followed, emerging back into the night to see Roberts standing at the edge of the tower, a precipice behind him. I stopped. If he jumped, I lost the skull. I couldn’t afford to let him jump.

His arm holding the torch waved. He was signalling—but to what?

“I’ll not fight where you have the advantage, lad,” he said, breathing heavily.

He laid down the torch.

He was going to jump.

I started forward to try and catch him but he’d gone, and I scrambled to the edge on my belly and looked over, only now seeing what had been hidden from me; what Black Bart knew to be there, why he’d been signalling.

It was The Royal Fortune, and in the glow of her deck lamps I saw that Roberts had landed on deck and was already dusting himself off and peering up the rock-face to where I lay. Around him were his men, and in the next instant I was pulling back from the lip as muskets began popping and balls began smacking into the stone around me.

Not far away, I saw the Jackdaw, right on time. Good lads. I picked up the torch and began signalling to them, and soon they were close enough for me to see Anne at the tiller, her hair blowing in the wind as she brought the Jackdaw to bear by the cliff, close enough for me to . . .

Jump.

The chase was on.

We pursued him through the narrow rock passages of the coast-line, firing our carriage-guns when we were able. In return his men lobbed mortar shot at us and mine returned with musket fire and grenadoes whenever we were within range.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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